It’s no secret that cats are often seen as asocial creatures.  

They sometimes have a reputation as being cold or unemotional, and they are viewed as much less affectionate than their canine counterparts. Beyond this, there are many superstitions revolving around our feline friends⎯⎯one of the most infamous being that you’ll have bad luck (or die!) if a black cat crosses your path on a moonlit night.

These negative stereotypes and longstanding superstitions are more often than not derived from a lack of knowledge and understanding of how cats operate, and they can lead to cats being overlooked, unwanted, and mistreated. The truth is that cats⎯⎯just like humans⎯⎯all have different personalities and ways of showing love to their human companions.  

If I saw this little baby on the street, I would simply say hello.
Photo Credit: Lennon Cheng via Unsplash 

So how do cats show affection?  

The short answer is: in a lot of ways. Knowing the various behaviors is a great start, but it’s also important to get to know your cat as well. The more you understand about cats, the better equipped you are to identify all the little ways they show you they love you throughout the day! 

1. Cats Have A Variety of Personalities 

First and foremost, it’s important to understand that just like humans and snowflakes, no two cats are completely alike. In the same way that you have different traits, quirks, and interests than your friends and family members, felines also have unique personalities that play into how they interact with you! 

There are many people who think all cats are distant and uncaring animals, and oftentimes pass them over as potential pets because of this preconceived notion. This is simply not the case at all, and even cats who trend towards aloofness have their own ways of showing affection.  

Dogs are often seen as superior pets in terms of sociability and affection, but there are definitely cats whose outgoing personalities rival even the friendliest pup. Meeting (and adopting!) cats who are a little older can give you a better idea of their personality, and even the most dedicated dog lover can find a cat whose temperament meshes with their lifestyle⎯⎯as long as they’re willing to give them a chance! 

2. Social vs. Aloof Cats 

If you were to put cat affection behavior on a spectrum, one end would lean towards social and the other would lean towards aloof. Most cats, however, fall somewhere in the middle of these two extremes. 

Okay, maybe not highly scientific, but I think it illustrates the point. 

Social cats are often very chatty. If you meow at them, they’ll meow right back at you with love and enthusiasm. After all, domestic cats adopted meowing as a way of communicating with humans rather than other cats! You may have no idea what you and your feline friend are talking about, but it’s super cute and a great bonding experience. More sociable cats may also follow you around out of curiosity as to what you’re up to all day, and they may be more open to cuddling and playing around. 

Aloof cats, on the other hand, tend to keep their distance until they decide it’s time for some human bonding experiences. This doesn’t mean they don’t love you; it just means that these types of cats prefer to have a little more control over their social interaction. In fact, if you’ve ever had a more introverted cat simply hang out with you in the same room, that in and of itself is a form of affection! Even the most mysterious and aloof cats love spending time with you, just at their own comfortability and pace. 

3. Personality Aside, What Are Cat Affection Behaviors? 

There are many cat affection behaviors⎯⎯some more subtle than others⎯⎯that our feline friends use to indicate love and trust regardless of their temperament. The following list includes some of the most commonly recorded behaviors that tend to be good indicators of your cat’s happiness and contentment when they’re around you.

It’s important to note that this is not an exhaustive list and that not all cats will display all of these behaviors. However, if your cat is well loved and well taken care of, you will definitely see some of these gestures of affection throughout the day! 

  • Scent marking (by way of face rubs and head-butting) 

If you’ve ever wondered why cats often rub their faces on various objects (including you!), it’s because they are marking the object with the scent glands on their cheeks. This is a bonding exercise when done with other cats and humans, and it’s one of the most obvious ways cats say ‘I love you’! 

  • Flopping down and showing their belly 

A cat that trusts you wholeheartedly feels safe enough to roll over and expose their belly to you. However, be wary of actually giving them a belly rub. More often than not, this is a carefully curated trap set by your feline friend to give your hand a little love bite. 

The last thing you see before your cat decides your hand’s fate.
Photo Credit: Erik-Jan Leusink via Unsplash 
  • Kneading 

If you’ve ever felt like a ball of dough at the mercy of an aggressive baker, you’ve likely been on the receiving end of kneading by your cat. Kneading is a social behavior picked up during the nursing stage of kittenhood, and adult cats knead mainly because the action brings back memories of comfort from that time in their life. This behavior doesn’t always feel pleasant for us humans, but it’s definitely a sign that your cat feels comfortable with you. 

  • Grooming 

There’s a definite correlation between affection behaviors cats use with other cats and how they interact with humans. Most cats typically enjoy grooming both themselves and their feline counterparts as a social activity. If your cat grooms you from time to time, take it as a compliment that they see you as one of their own! 

  • Commanding your attention  

Imagine that you’re working on something⎯⎯anything⎯⎯and suddenly your cat has magically appeared before you. Maybe they’re sitting directly on top of your laptop, a book you were reading whilst relaxing on the floor, or even meticulously checking out what you’re making for dinner. Simply put, when your cat does this, it means they love you and they want your attention. Now.  

“I think you’ll find that I am about a million times more important than whatever this is.” 
Photo Credit: Ryunosuke Kikuno via Unsplash 

4. Are There Other Indicators of a Cat’s Love? 

Cat affection behaviors, temperament, and level of sociability are not the only ways of gauging how our beloved pets feel about us. Examining the negative behaviors that cats may display when stressed can also lead to a better understanding of just how important a role the bond between a cat and their human plays in a cat’s level of happiness. 

According to Muth at Scientific American, cats will often exhibit stress behaviors when separated from their owners for an extended period of time. Some of these stress indicators are excessive meowing, purposefully not utilizing the litterbox even if it’s clean, and acting out in destructive or harmful ways. While you should never intentionally do anything that could potentially stress out your cat, it’s definitely important to be able to recognize these behaviors in order to better understand how your actions may affect your cat’s state of mind.  

One of the key things to keep in mind about pet ownership is that our pets are definitely a significant part of our lives, but their world almost entirely revolves around us. Cats are no exception to this! 

5. Affection Behaviors Can Change Over Time

Just like humans evolve and grow over time, a particular cat’s personality and ways of showing affection may change, too.  

For example, cats who were very sociable as kittens and young adults may mellow out with age, becoming less playful or vocal. They may find more comfort in simply chilling out alongside their human companion as they get older. On the flipside, some cats who are naturally more aloof or were rescued from a stressful situation may open up as they become more comfortable with their owners. A once quiet or distant cat may eventually become more vocal and playful once they know they can trust you, and that’s one of the biggest compliments you can receive from a cat! 

However, if you notice a sudden change in behavior in your cat, it’s best to consult a vet before assuming it’s just a natural shift in temperament. Sometimes sudden behavioral changes can indicate stress or disease, so it’s important to make sure that you’re providing your cat the best care possible. 

6. Does My Cat Fake Affection When They Want More Food? 

Oh, yes. Absolutely.

“It appears as though the bowl is only filled nine tenths of the way full. Clearly you have chosen to starve me.” 
Photo Credit: Mathilde Langevin via Unsplash 

A cat will look at a nearly full bowl of food and believe they are being punished for crimes they absolutely did not commit. Their commitment to the drama of falling at your feet, rubbing against you, and beckoning you to refill the food bowl is truly commendable⎯⎯but it is all an act. 

They do still love you (for real), though.